Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on January 21, 2002. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Inactivity leads to youth weight gain
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Children who don't get moving, start life heavy and tend to become sedentary, overweight adults.
Childhood is a time of boundless energy that gives kids the ability to eat practically all they want and still stay slim. But when that energy is channeled into video games or suppressed by television viewing, children gain weight as easily as adults.
Kids need regular activity to form good habits of exercise they can carry the rest of their lives. Youthful inactivity leads to unhealthy weight gain and hurts future health.
Linda Patterson, Mississippi State University's Extension Service health education specialist, said most adults need at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily, but children need more.
"Adult fitness guidelines are for maintenance of health, not physical development," Patterson said. "For optimum aerobic and strength development, the ideal for children is to get three to four hours of vigorous physical activity each day."
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher recently reported on the health threat that obesity and being overweight pose. The report found that just 3 percent of Americans regularly meet federal dietary guidelines and that 13 percent of children and 61 percent of adults are obese.
It further found that less than one-third of Americans engage in moderate physical activity and as many as 40 percent don't exercise at all. A recent survey by the International Life Sciences Institute found that 75 percent of the nation's kids are not vigorously active for 20 minutes a day.
"Communities can help when it comes to health promotion and disease," Satcher said. "When there are no safe places for children to play or for adults to walk, jog or ride a bike, that's a community responsibility.
"When school lunchrooms or workplace cafeterias don't offer healthy and appealing food choices, that is a community responsibility. And when we don't require daily physical education in our schools, that is also a community responsibility," Satcher said.
Between schoolwork, television, video games and computers, most children don't have time to get active, but Patterson said parents need to help children make time for exercise.
"There are no easy answers to this issue because school is important and other activities have their place," she said. "Parents need to be aware of their child's need for enough physical exertion to have the best physical health and mental capacity."
Exercise does not have to be work. Play, chores, sports, biking, yard work and physical education at school can all be a part of an active life.
"To help children develop less sedentary lifestyles, adults should model exercise as a part of an active life rather than a structured activity," Patterson said. "Families need to work and play together for physical fitness as well as to build strong relationships."